The Scarlet Woman
Once I was good like the Virgin Mary and the Minister’s
My father worked for Mr. Pullman and white people’s
tips; but he died two days after his insurance expired.
I had nothing, so I had to go to work.
All the stock I had was a white girl’s education and a
face that enchanted the men of both races.
Starvation danced with me.
So when Big Lizzie, who kept a house for white men,
came to me with tales of fortune that I could reap
from the sale of my virtue I bowed my head to Vice.
Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around.
Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.
From The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922) edited by James Weldon Johnson. This poem is in the public domain.